Selecting the right forage mix has never been easier

New forage selection tool builds on extensive research and puts it all in an easy-to-use package

Trying to decide what forage to seed in a newly broken field? The Forage U Pick selector takes the guesswork out of it.

Forage U Pick is not a new tool. Twelve years ago, the Saskatchewan Forage Council developed a Dryland Forage Selection Tool. It was well used by producers in that province, provincial ministries, and educators. But old technology was an issue and this led to a vision of a western Canadian forage tool and a collaboration across the four western provinces began.

“The real push came from the Alberta Beef Forage and Grazing Centre,” said project co-ordinator Julie MacKenzie.

The new online tool has a user-friendly layout, and is optimized for mobile devices. The home screen has three options: Forages Suited to My Field, Seeding Rate Calculator, and Forage Weed Management.

The latter is an important component, said MacKenzie.

“We know economic success can really increase in forages with weed control,” she said.

A new forage selection tool builds on decades of research, much of which has advanced considerably in recent years, says Julie MacKenzie.
photo: Supplied

When Forages Suited to My Field is selected, a map of Western Canada opens so the user can select their province. In Alberta, there are five soil zones the user can select — Peace River, Grey, Black, Dark Brown and Brown — and each has a list of forage species suited to that zone.

Forage specialists across the provinces were consulted and their extensive research over the past 60 years has been used. That research has looked at not just soil type, but also climatic conditions within the soil zones.

“It’s amazing how much they have learned even in the 12 years since the Saskatchewan Forage Council tool was developed,” MacKenzie said.

To narrow things down further, a user then selects up to 10 field characteristics. These range from the purpose of the forage (pasture, hay, stockpiled, or reclamation), time of use (spring, summer — including hay, fall, or winter) to desired plant type (tame, native, legume, or grass species).

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“To make Forage U Pick the easiest and most practical to use, we’re not going to overprescribe,” said MacKenzie. “Picking one, two, or three of your main characteristics you’re looking for in a forage is going to get you your best result.

“Focus on a couple of things you want to address on your farm.”

When the field characteristics are selected, the tool then offers a list of forages suitable for the chosen site, with some highlighted and others shaded out. The shaded-out species are those suited to the selected soil zone, but not best suited to the field characteristics that were selected.

The highlighted species are ‘clickable’ and when chosen, three key points about the species appears. From there, the user can select Full Details to see photos of the species and find out additional information, such as yield and hardiness.

“We’re very lucky (to have this),” said MacKenzie. “This is a hybrid of information between the British Columbia Forage manual, the Alberta Forage manual, and the previous Saskatchewan forage tool.”

Currently the Forage U Pick focuses on perennial forages, and annuals were not included in the species selection.

“If we get enough information and research about novel annuals within Western Canada in the next couple of years, then maybe we can build an annual component into Forage U Pick,” MacKenzie said.

Up next is the Seeding Rate Calculator.

It asks for similar information as the Forage U Pick selector — soil zone, irrigated field, or for reclamation purposes. The calculator also supplies recommendations for increased seeding rates to improve stand establishment — something that can plague newly seeded forage stands.

Blends can be calculated, too, selecting percentage of species for the total stand. A unique option allows the user to input the cost of seed per pound, giving the cost per acre of seeding. Once the information is inputted, a summary appears at the bottom giving the forages selected, percentages for each mix, recommended seeding rate, cost per pound and total cost.

Users can then take a snapshot of it and send to their seed retailer to formulate custom blends.

Seed size and seed weight, especially when doing blends, are not always equal, MacKenzie said. “This is where calculators can really help us and get us the forage stands we want.”

This is a good place for producers to start, she added.

“The goal of the project is to help producers across Western Canada. We want to see people using good forages, this tool helps you select good species for your situation. We want to ensure seeding rates are adequate to produce healthy, economical forage stands.” A new forage selection tool builds on decades of research, much of which has advanced considerably in recent years, says Julie MacKenzie.

About the author

Contributor

Jill Burkhardt

Jill Burkhardt, her husband, Kelly, and their two children, own and operate a mixed farm near Gwynne, Alberta. Originally hailing from Montana, she has a degree in Range Management from Montana State University. Jill’s agricultural passions are cattle and range management but she enjoys writing and learning more about all aspects of farming.

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